Labour appears split over returning whip to Diane Abbott

Labour faces questions over whether to allow Diane Abbott back into the party fold as senior figures appeared split on whether to return the whip to the long-serving MP.

The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP lost the whip in April last year after writing a letter to The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.

While she remains a party member, she has sat as an independent MP while an internal investigation of her comments continues.

While Sir Keir Starmer said Ms Abbott should receive “support” in relation to the abuse she receives, he has resisted calls to return the whip.

On Thursday, he said her suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party was “an entirely different issue” and subject to an independent process that was separate from him.

But at a lunch with Westminster reporters, his deputy Angela Rayner said she would like Ms Abbott to be reinstated as a Labour MP.

She said: “Personally, I would like to see Diane back but the Labour Party has to follow its procedures.

Labour Creatives Conference
Sir Keir Starmer said Diane Abbott’s suspension was ‘an entirely different issue’ from the row over alleged racist comments by Tory donor Frank Hester (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She also expressed “frustration” with the length of time the internal investigation had taken.

Other senior Labour figures have been less willing to express an opinion. Yvette Cooper, appearing on LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr, said she could not comment on the independent process.

But some backbenchers have been more outspoken. Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, told the BBC’s Newsnight that Ms Abbott should “absolutely” have the whip restored.

She said: “Diane Abbott is a trailblazer. She is one of the strongest and most powerful advocates for the British black community. She is a hero of the anti-racist struggle.

“All of this needs to be recognised. She has had a tremendous parliamentary career to date and she should have the whip restored.”

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